A blind man who persevered - and a documentary that doesn't
Perseverance and eccentricity are two common English characteristics in which most of the world believes. Like most national stereotypes, there is some basis in truth for them.
A Voyage Round My Father (syndicated on more than 60 stations, mostly non-network-affiliated, Thursday, 8-9:30 p.m., check local listings) is a paean to those two British traits.It is also an affectionate, touching tribute to writer John Mortimer's father, a crotchety, lovable curmudgeon of a Britisher, as eccentric and persevering as they come. The film was shot in the actual house and garden in the Chiltern Hills where Mortimer grew up.
''Voyage'' comes to America via the Mobil Showcase Network after winning many international television awards. Sir Laurence Olivier plays Mortimer's blind barrister father with exquisitely delicate perception, symbolizing the kind of Englishman who would never admit misfortune so as to prevent others from feeling pity for him.
After the elder Mr. Mortimer became blind as a result of a gardening accident , he refused to mention his disability. Was it out of courage, cowardice, indifference, or caring too completely? That is the excruciating puzzle of his character, and Lord Olivier makes the most of it in a brilliant performance that will rank among his best ever.
''Voyage'' is filled with John Mortimer's incisive memories and pungent perspectives, which he communicates through vivid dialogue, reminiscences, and advice - some serious, some simply obnoxious.
Here are some choice selections:
''When I was a boy I never minded the lessons, I just regretted having to work so terribly hard at games.''
''If they ever give another war, avoid at all costs the temptation to do anything heroic.''
''I love the south of France, except for that terribly greasy food they keep boasting about.''
''If you (a seeing person) only knew the loneliness of getting dressed.''
When father lies on his deathbed he is curt and furious with everybody around him, as always. ''Don't be angry,'' he is told. ''I'm always angry when I'm dying,'' he says - and expires.
''A Voyage Round My Father'' is a look into the mirror of someone else's memory of an unforgettable man who planted flowers he could not see - in his garden and in all the lives he touched. It may not be easy to find on your television dial or in your local listings, but I guarantee it will prove to be a discovery well worth the search.
The Reagan administration's attempt to ''get the government off the back of industry'' comes in for some rough treatment in an NBC News documentary which starts like a lion but ends like a lamb.
Assault on Big Brother . . . Regulating the Regulators (NBC, Friday, 10-11 p.m.) explores the charge that there has been a growing tendency for government to act as Big Brother, regulating our every move. Or, in many instances, acting as our personal bodyguard, protecting us against attacks on our well-being.
Correspondent John Dancy examines some behind-the-scenes efforts of Reagan appointees to take regulatory shortcuts which, in some cases, leave the American consumer unprotected. The most frightening example, still unresolved, is the alleged danger in using aspirin to treat childhood illnesses (it may cause brain damage). Other shocking material concerns lead poisoning, air pollution, and acid rain.
Directed and produced by James Gannon, ''Assault on Big Brother'' comes out of its corner boldly, starts punching hard, then unexpectedly shies away from the battle by generalizing when specifics are called for. Naming more names and pointing more fingers is the way to win this fight.